No Comment — April 22, 2009, 9:18 am

Behind the Obama About-Face on Prosecuting Torture

White House spokesmen said on Sunday that there would be no prosecutions of those involved in writing legal memos or making policy that embraced torture. But on Tuesday, in the midst of a press opportunity with the visiting Jordanian king, Obama did an abrupt about-face, denying he was prejudging the matter and insisting that the ball was fully in Attorney General Holder’s court. What was behind this dramatic turn-around? I give a glimpse under the tent in this account in The Daily Beast.

Senior Justice Department lawyers were “incensed” at the Emanuel and Gibbs statements, as one put it—not because they disagreed with Obama’s apparent opposition to an investigation and prosecution, but because the statements violated well established rules separating political figures in the White House from decisions about active criminal cases. The statements were viewed as a frontal assault on the autonomy and independence of the criminal justice system. “Emanuel got far ahead of the process and described it in a way that clearly suggested that political judgment was driving the entire process,” one senior Justice official told me. “It was depressing and amateurish.”

Holder is now close to a decision on whether to appoint a special prosecutor to look into torture allegations, and Rahm Emanuel’s misstep may have the ironic consequence of tipping the issue in the other direction.

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